>Caribbean Hospitality’s Uncanny Conundrum

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>By Pamala Baldwin (caribsearchltd@aol.com )

Miami—In light of dwindling hospitality revenues and lackluster bookings predicted into 2011, Caribbean hoteliers, government Ministries and Tourism organizations continue scrambling for ways to stop the bleeding. For every action there is a reaction and in this case, we’ve created our own classic Catch 22.

Hospitality pure and simple is defined as ‘generous treatment to visitors’. Yet, the greater the cutbacks the less likely it is that guests will enjoy the same level of treatment they expect and deserve. Undeniably the number of layoffs parallel potential waning of positive guest experience thus, the conundrum.

During infamous 2009, damage control required aggressive cost cutting measures. Executives targeted the obvious — the labor force. On average, employee related expenditures account for 40 percent of a hotel’s operating budget. Once cuts were put in place financial strains eased a bit but what about the aftermath?

Today, thousands of regional skilled hotel and tourism employees are coping with salary cuts and reduced hours or worse yet, layoffs. To compound matters, cutbacks trigger job insecurity inevitably crippling staff loyalty and ultimately company’s reputation. No one is spared. Guests are less likely to enjoy the level of service standards and attention they expect, employees are stretched and stressed, and owners are pulling their hair out frantically while seeking solutions. It goes without saying that controlling labor expenses is critical; hospitality decision makers know all too well that employees are the most vital contributor in achieving positive guest experiences and maintaining standards. Human capital if you will. What to do?

Aside from slashing prices and people, are there no innovative ways to balance cost controls and guest satisfaction? Herein lays the double-edged sword. Enrique De Marchena, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association’s (CHTA) president underscores the dilemma by stating, “—even more crucial, each week we are hearing about our most valuable asset, our human resource personnel being laid off because of lack of visitors to our destinations.”

Bangkok-based CEO and Chairman of Six Senses, Sonu Shivdasani reiterated De Marchena’s observation saying, “—the last thing we should cutback is the people who deliver our exceptional service. We therefore needed to come up with the most optimal solution that will maintain mutual loyalty and high standards.”

Closer to home, seasoned resort general manager Helen Bayne has called upon her problem solving acumen to hatch an industry-first regional recovery plan. While specifics remain under wraps until Ms Bayne’s formal Press Conference, she explains that her concept will effectively maximize ‘human capital’, provide savings to the bottom line yet simultaneously enhance guests’ perception of service. Bayne remarks, “I’ve put a positive spin to these worrisome trends and orchestrated a way to create synergies between hoteliers and local governments; to replenish and recycle the labor pool and deliver jobs to motivated persons already experienced in the hotel and tourism industry.” She adds, “It’s got potential to cause a stir and a paradigm shift in the way we think of hospitality staffing beyond today and into the future”. Stay tuned.

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